Mentorship in hospitality is nothing new, but more often than not, it’s a male doing the mentoring. A new Phoenix-area mentorship program aims to change that by matching high-potential female, femme and nonbinary bartenders with established spirits industry mentors.
“An estimated 60% of today’s bartenders are women, and yet only a select few transition into upper-level management or ownership positions,” said Kailee Asher, a longtime industry vet and the co-creator of the Skylight Mentorship Program for hospitality professionals. “The mentors I’ve had throughout my career were predominantly men, and the idea here is to create opportunities for women in bartending to connect with other women – and get guidance and support related to career progression, gender pay gap issues and other matters unique to women in the industry.”
The new, six-week Skylight program will give eight local bartenders an opportunity to make lasting connections with spirits industry standouts and is an evolution of an earlier program Kailee first introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. That program, aimed at building bartender confidence in cocktail creation, took place largely online and linked local bartending talent with mentors, tasking them with creating a new cocktail recipe together.
The cocktails then were sold through Century Grand in Arizona with proceeds from sales benefitting Another Round Another Rally and kickstarted their Professional Development Fund for hospitality professionals. In total, last year’s effort brought in about $4,600 to help hospitality workers, with some of the money raised going toward reimbursements for hospitality workers who underwent training to become a Craft Spirits Specialist other types of certified hospitality professionals.
Jenna Murray, a brand ambassador with the world’s second-largest wine and spirits seller, Pernod Ricard, was one of last year’s mentors, and she’ll also take on a new mentee this year.
“My past mentee and I are still in communication,” Jenna said, of last years’ experience. “It’s empowering to mentor and guide in the initial program, but it’s even more rewarding to continue to offer learning and support to one another long after the program has ended. I’m excited to connect with my new partner this year and make another friend.”
Jenna credits her own success in the bar industry to two key things: showing up to bartend each day on time with open ears and an open mind, and talking to everyone at that bar who would listen about everything industry-related.
“I live by the phrase, ‘If you want a seat at the table, you’ve got to create one for yourself,’” she said. “This program is about creating opportunities to learn all the information you can from the talented people in the industry who are there to learn from.”
While last year’s COVID-19 recovery efforts made it difficult for mentors and mentees to meet in person at the program’s conclusion, this year’s Skylight Mentorship program will culminate with a celebration at Rough Rider, a Downtown Phoenix bar known for its Victorian-era cocktails and fashionable accommodations.
Kyla Hein, a familiar face behind the Rough Rider bar, will help orchestrate the finale event after serving in a mentee role last year alongside mentor Karen Grill of Remy-Cointreau. Like last year, part of the mentorship program includes coming up with an original cocktail recipe and presenting it at the closing event for other mentors, mentees and attendees to try.
“Kudos to Kailee Asher for originating this idea and executing it so beautifully that it is now being replicated,” Kyla said, of the mentorship program. “My biggest takeaway was being connected to more amazing women in this industry and with whom I look up to, and being able to learn from them and collaborate on an amazing project.”
While the Skylight Mentorship program seeks to help shatter the glass ceiling for women in hospitality and give female hospitality professionals more networking connections, it also seeks to help members of marginalized communities develop the skills and knowledge they need to land higher-paying, higher-prestige positions.
“A lot of mentees and hospitality workers, in general, are young, and this program helps build confidence with regard to asking questions, networking and otherwise furthering their careers,” said Kailee Asher.
Kyla agreed, offering up some advice for this year’s mentees.
“Soak up every training opportunity and ask all the questions,” she said. “This is an amazing learning experience, and I think being able to have such an open format and ask questions on a more intimate level is something to really utilize.”
Kailee noted that the mentorship program also encourages collaboration among women in hospitality.
“Sure; there’s misogyny in the industry – but sometimes, women in the community aren’t so supportive of each other, either – some can be protective of their ‘secrets,’” she said. “We wanted to give women a chance to work together and eliminate the feeling that they must compete with one another.”
Stay tuned for more details on attending our finale cocktail showcase event on 11/7/22, where you can meet this year’s mentees – a group that will surely be future leaders of our industry!